Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Remaining the Orphaned Narrator

It is always exciting to discover a new-to-me author. In this case it’s Kazuo Ishiguro. I know, I know. I’m a bit late in my discovering; however, better late than never in finding an author of mesmerizing style.

I knew the movie Remains of the Day, before finding the novel and didn’t realize the movie was the adaptation.
How could I possibly pass up a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson?
Flash forward five years later and I’m perusing the AP Literature list (“read that one, will never read this one, not reading this one again”), when I recognized the title Remains of the Day and connected it to the movie. Then I read the author’s name and I must admit I expected something like Adrian Smythe or Winston Greene, not Kazuo Ishiguro. After all, the novel is about a very proper English butler and his reflections of what it takes to become the best of English butlers. Wouldn’t one need to be English to understand that sort of nationalistic pride? I’m not getting points here for narrow-minded thinking, am I?

It turns out Ishiguro is quite well-suited to the task of writing about the English since he moved to England when he was around six years old. This gives him the ability to have an insider’s view with a somewhat detached perspective. The result is  basically a stream-of-consciousness narrative concerning the tunnel vision of a man’s quest for the unattainable. Trying to live a life that is beyond reproach, to achieve a status of perfection, requires sacrifice. Can sacrifice be made without regret? This is the hidden truth Stevens, the butler is searching for, except he does not realize it.
A quest novel of notice did not go unnoticed, for Ishiguro’s debut garnered him the Man Booker Prize and set a bar. Would he be a one shot wonder or would this be the first work of a noteworthy word smith?

image: This cover indicates the layers found within the story.

My literary taste buds curious for more, I trotted down to the library. Grabbing any title of his that caught my eye on the  shelf, I opened up his fifth novel When We Were Orphans. I immersed myself in reading it to the point the MEPA queried, “Still a good book?” Yes, thank you. Prognosis? After reading two novels, indications are Ishiguro is wordsmithing wonder.

Here are some bio facts and  stats:

  • Two novels have been adapted to the screen, Remains of the Day, and the more recent Never Let Me Go. Both have been received well, considering Ishiguro’s stories are mainly first person narratives, making them difficult to translate into a cinematic plot.
  • His novels are historical in nature, with attention to detail.
  • The stylistic viewpoint is that of the unreliable first-person narrator, one who is flawed in outlook.
  • Although born in Japan, he did not return until thirty years later.
  • He has received four Man Booker Prize nominations
  • The Times ranked him 32 on the list of the 50 most influential British writers since 1945.

As for an actual review of When We Were Orphans, I leave it to the more qualified:
New York Times

I plan on continuing my course of exploring Ishiguro’s work and look forward to introducing a contemporary author to my APters, who, I’m sure, would like a break from dead white folk now and then.

Any thoughts on Ishiguro’s writing? Any suggestions for the next title I should read of his?

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17 thoughts on “Remaining the Orphaned Narrator

  1. Man…reading for your AP class, I thought summer was for lounging about and drinking. I haven’t read any of his work but maybe I should.

    • I know. I’m obviously one of those mean teachers who doesn’t believe in brain cells atrophying over the summer. Jump starting brain cells takes almost the entire month of September. At least they get to select their novel. So maybe I’m only sorta mean.📚

  2. Did you read Never Let Me Go? I adored it,so much so that I found it hard not to finish the book too quickly – in the end it took me 3 days to read it.
    And I’ve not yet read Remains of the Day,but I have it on my shelves.I’m also eyeing his short stories!
    In less than two months,I’ll be heading to Kent.I wasn’t enthusiastic to go that university until I learned that Ishiguro graduated from there!

  3. I love the way The Remains of the Day peels back the layers of the butler’s psyche. From what I recall, he was a quietly unreliable narrator. It was a brilliant book. I have not read any others.

  4. I love Remains of the Day! I first read it my senior year in high school in a lit class where we read the books and then watched the film adaptations. Anthony Hopkins was fabulous in the film!

  5. While I knew “Remains” was an adaptation of a novel, I have no experience with this or any of Ishiguro’s other books.

    I think I should rectify this.

  6. I was a late comer to The Remains of the day as well and bought it on a whim as I didn’t fancy watching the film before the book…it was absolutely fantastic. I haven’t read any of his other works so I will be interested in hearing your opinions.

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